This project investigates the environmental consequences of the outmigration to the U.S. of indigenous people from areas of the Mexico that are considered biodiversity hotspots in Mexico. Mexico is a mega-biodiverse country, a center of agricultural domestication, and a country where indigenous communities control more than 10% of the national land area. Mexican indigenous "territorial communities" are essential for helping to conserve and maintain the biodiversity of the country through their environmental governance. Not only do the collective decisions of the communities guide individual members use of common lands, but they have also become recognized as key actors in conservation strategies increasingly promoted by the Mexican federal government and non-governmental organizations, including community forestry, community conservation areas, land use planning and zoning, and payment for environmental services programs. All of these environmental management strategies rest on communal institutions and collective decision-making about the use of communal territories. However, the ability of territorial communities to govern the environments of their territories is threatened by patterns of outmigration that remove the people that provide the collective decision-making, leadership, and labor in the construction and maintenance of public works. In a previous era, the ideal was for community members to be born, to live in and die in the home territory, with interruptions only for temporary migration. This geography is changing. Currently, many have become trans-border communities with members who do not live in the community territory for long periods of time, but who often financially support families in the home territory, who may participate in collective decision-making from afar, and who may return to the home territory at various times in their lives. This project examines trans-border aspects of environmental governance in Mexican indigenous territorial communities (i.e. ejidos and comunidades), which include land, the members of that community, and the institutions through which those residents govern themselves and their territory. In collaboration with Mexican scientists, this project seeks to uncover the trans-border geographic dimension of these communities through semi-structured interviews with migrants in the US about their connections to the home territory, especially whether they participate in formal or informal hometown associations, whether they answer their territorial community's call to return to Mexico to serve in unpaid leadership posts, to make payments to cover community-levied labor taxes, to send remittances for environmental or other activities, and whether they have plans to return to the home territory to live later in life. Interviews will also investigate agricultural land-use in the home territory, such as loans to other household members, land abandonment, and plans for using fields in the future.
The project demonstrates the role of trans-border Mexican indigenous communities in the environmental governance of biologically-diverse territories. The project broadens the participation of US Latino students as project research assistants and study abroad scholarship recipients. The project also enhances the infrastructure for research by cementing collaboration between US and Mexican institutions.
This project is supported through co-funding between NSF's Geography and Spatial Sciences Program and the Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE).